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Category Archives: Black Bears

It had been a number of years since we last visited the Vince Schute Wildlife Sanctuary so we decided to make a return trip. The Sanctuary got its start back in the 40’s as a logging camp. Bears kept breaking into the cook shack searching for food. For a number of years the loggers shot the bears. One day Vince Schute decided there might be a better way to solve the problem so he tried feeding them. It was so successful that what started out as one bear on the dole turned into close to a hundred. By the time Vince died friends were helping him feed the bears. Today it is a coordinated effort of many volunteers. A Raised observation platform was build to protect the bears from the tourists. Volunteers are on hand to explain bear behavior and talk about the bears who visit the sanctuary. Most of them have names and a history with the Sanctuary. If you have never visited Vince Shute Wildlife Sanctuary it is something you should put on your bucket list. Our visits have been the last two weeks in August and we have been fortunate to see many bears.

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These two were probably yearlings. They were in a tree right next to the viewing platform during the entire time we were there. They were either playing or sleeping during the evening. The last photo answers the age old question “Do bears s**** in the woods?”

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During this visit there were probably 50 bears in the area. It was a hot night so they were not as active as our last visit. Staff walk among the bears feeding them a combination of nuts, grains and honey. We were asked not to photograph the individuals doing the feeding. Feed is placed on rocks, stumps and in troughs made out of logs. Notice that the bears can be a little protective of their food. The last photo is of a bear that was full and decided to take a break.

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This yearling was having his problems. Every time he heard another bear huff he would race up the tree. When the perceived danger left the area he would come down only to race up the tree when the next bear came along. It didn’t help that there was a feeding station at the bottom of the tree. The third picture shows why he didn’t want to come down the tree. Finally at end of the evening he was able to have a little dinner all to himself.

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On this visit we saw about 15 cubs most of them in trees.  This was one of the smallest cubs we saw on our visit and was born this spring. He had climbed higher into the trees than the other cubs and was a crowd favorite. While we were watching he climbed way up into the tree. The last photo shows a small cub on the ground with its mother. This one was probably also born this spring. We were told that late in the evening the cubs would come down out of the trees.

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This bear was the only one tagged and collared. He was part of an ongoing research project being conducted by the Minnesota DNR. The ear tags were supposed to protect him from hunters. Hunting is allowed in the area but is discouraged on ethical grounds because the bears in the area are used to being around people.

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I found out about the Vince Shute Wildlife Sanctuary last year but wasn’t able to work it into my schedule. This past weekend my wife and I drove up to Orr, Minnesota to visit the Sanctuary. Orr is located a couple of hours north of Duluth, Minnesota on highway 53.

The Sanctuary opens to the public at 5 pm. We had no idea what to expect and thought we would be spending the evening trying to see a few bears. When we arrived in the parking lot we found out that we had to take a bus into the viewing area. We purchased tickets and after a short drive we arrived at the viewing stand. The bus drove right up to the stand and were off loaded like cattle heading down a cattle chute. This was to prevent any bears getting on the bus and prevent people from wandering out where the bears were feeding.

You are not allowed to setup a tripod on the viewing stand. This is because there are usually quite a few people milling round and it could be easily bumped. You can use your tripod as a mono-pod.

As we walked up to the viewing platform we notice quite a few black objects on the ground. My wife thought they were rocks but they turned out to be black bears. There were probably 50 of them eating and wandering around a small open area next to the viewing stand. There were also a couple of people walking around amongst the bears putting out food for them.

This is one of those things that just got out of hand. Shute lived in the woods and started feeding one bear. Soon there were more bears, in fact, so many bears that he used up his life savings trying to feed the bears. There is a saying that a fed bear is a dead bear because if you stop feeding them they will quickly become a nuisance in their attempt to get food. Once that happens they will likely be put down. A nonprofit group has taken over the feeding of the bears.

Bear numbers will vary from time of year and year to year. Probably the best chance to see the most bears is the end of July and the first part of August. The bears are getting ready for winter and will be eating a lot. Bear numbers can also vary depending upon the supply of food in the wild. This year the wild berries were a little sparse so there were lots of bears looking for food.

There were bears of all sizes, sex and shapes around the viewing stand. A number of bears had cubs. There was a pair of cubs up in a tree right next to the viewing stand.

This was a very interesting experience and something I would do again. They have interpreters on the viewing stand that provide a history of the bear feeding and talk about bears. They are very knowledgeable and really add to the experience.

More photos can be found on my website.